Hang onto the world as it spins, around
Just don’t let the spin get you down
Things are moving fast
Hold on tight and you will last
Keep your self-respect, your manly pride
Get yourself in gear
Keep your stride
Never mind your fears
Brighter days will soon be here
Take it from me someday we’ll all be free (Yeah)
Keep on walking tall, hold your head up high
Lay your dreams right up to the sky
Sing your greatest song
And you’ll keep, going, going on
(Hey) Just wait and see someday we’ll all be free. (Yeah)
Take it from me, Someday we’ll all be free
(It won’t be long) Take it from me someday we’ll all be free
Take it from me, take it from me, take it from me
lyrics and performed by – the late great Donny Hathaway
I have been awfully naughty. I just finished a box of chocolates, seven truffles and pralines, and I am rediscovering Mood as a capricious mistress. Because there are times when coping with life’s uncertainties leave me feeling fucked over and wondering where did all the years go and asking wasn’t I supposed to be a spectacular success and ga-zillionaire by now? But today Mood is a benevolent dominatrix and I feel good being forked over. There’s no million pound bank account and next week I quit my corporate job (and an unproductive working relationship) for business startup world; setting off to “change my world” and who knows maybe even “the world”. So what my future is not neatly mapped out with deterministic outcomes; so what the prospect of doing something amazing is as thrilling as the risk of failure is terrifying; so what the future may not always be “alright”? Whatever the situation there will be at least one solution; of that I am convinced. I just need to keep calm, think clearly and execute. I will also need luck. So I’m feeling good right now and being something of an existentialist is, maybe, responsible for that. Or it might just be the chocolate.
Those that I envy the most are not the rich or the great or even the famous, the young or the beautiful but the souls who live spontaneously in non-metronomic rhythm; in step with the drum that calls a man to life and to live. I, on the other hand, feel mostly, girdled, girded round, encircled, a bone-dry mummy entombed in a crypt and sentenced to a display cage in a museum. What hell to be constrained within the prison cells of pragmatism and convention! It is as if the souls of the bodies that I see outside of me are actually inside of me; maggots wending a slimy pathway through my thoughts, giving the thumbs up to ideas that meet not the dictionary’s definition of common sense but the public interpretation of it and then shooting down all my attempts to escape and float upwards on the lofty air of rhapsodic discovery. Those souls out there, outside of my imagined reality, living erringly or truthfully but always spontaneously: surely they are my true brothers and sisters; my long lost aunts anxious to send me on my merry way laden with provisions of honey and ambrosia. My magic carpet is ready to fly.
Failure is not an option. That’s how my life looks right now as the days wind down to final exit from a 9-5 grind. The bugle calls: entrepreneurship!! Master of my own fate and captain of my own destiny. I’m no fool (I think). I am realistic and pragmatic but not necessarily practical. I know that I cannot do everything and anything. There are seven billion other buggers out there shuffling for space and recognition. Can I carve out a space where I can survive, succeed and be insatiably happy?
Failure is not an option. Hernan Cortes was said to have sunk (or burnt) his ships to give his army no escape options and thus no other option but fight to conquer Mexico. He did it for God and Spain. He wasn’t the first. Tariq ibn Ziyad is also said to have done the same eight hundred years earlier as he led his Islamic forces to conquer >> Spain/Iberia. It’s not unlikely that many others have tried this tactic unsuccessfully. Rather like the flightless birds of once uninhabited islands who cast off their flight skills only to face extinction at the arrival of a predator (most likely, man).
Failure is not an option. Who wants to be branded “loser”? The shame. Exclusion from the community. Being shunned and looked down upon. If you’re a loser you might as well forget about mating with desirable members of your species. Life for losers, if indeed one can call it that, can be grim. Life for losers can be fatal. Failure is not an option.
But failure is an option and if you think it through there really is no other option. Life throws so many curve balls that eventually we are bound to fail at something. Even the almighty Alexander the Great failed in his endeavour to conquer the world when his troops, homesick, finally had enough of fighting. He duly accepted that no man can conquer the world on his own and perhaps not at all. We can’t all be #1 at the same thing at the same time. Failure is very much an option. What is not an option is giving up.
Giving up is not an option. If you can’t be #1 or #2 (insert acceptable ranking) here you can be successful over there. You don’t have to bang your head against the same wall. If your dream is not working (say gold at the Olympics) then change direction, climb over the wall, dig under the obstruction or simply move to a different physical and/or mind space. These strategic options served our early ancestors well as they spread across the planet (destroying the local ecosystem) seeking new places where they could be independent of the old order they left behind. Moving is not always an option in our age when all the land’s taken and you need a passport to step across imaginary man-imposed borders. But in your mind you can always move.
Giving up is not an option because we can redefine our problems, reset our goals and sail in new directions. If we can’t have this then we will go for that. There’s no need to be stuck like a needle on a scratched vinyl record. You can’t go head-to-head with Microsoft in office software? Define a new market: creative software or games or something. You can’t go head-to-head with FaceBook in social networking? Create one for professionals or mums or [insert your passion]. You can’t get promoted at your current job? Move. Don’t die there. Move. You suck at maths but want to be an engineer? Can you code instead? Or are you good at drawing – you can be a designer! You hate your job but you love food? Cook but be creative about it and find a market you can shine in. You like beer? What about an independent brew? Your baby left you?
C’mon there’s no such thing as “He(she) was meant for me”. Nobody created any person for you – move your mind space and position yourself for another baby. [There’s only one person in the world for you. Really? There’s a Power out there who is ignoring all the problems in the world just to make sure you find that soul mate. Really?] And if you’re in the sort of job that’s truly dead end (street cleaner comes to mind) you have work to do to get yourself educated or vocationally trained in something that is worthwhile. Life is too short to be sitting on one’s ass or cleaning the street. Be part of the revolution: become an engineer and design machines for that sort of job – if we can think of cars that drive themselves then we can make machines to auto-clean our streets.
Use your head. Learn from failure. Don’t just pick up the pieces; sweep them away instead and start over, wiser and better.
I’m sitting, this night, to all intents relaxed except I am anything but. For I am possibly about to embark on the most exhilarating journey in my otherwise non-eventful life. Tomorrow I expect to be fired, a first. My life as corporate financial analyst is to be crossed out not, afterall, with a 25-year-service golden pen but with a giant eraser.
I was sat, this morning, across a table from my boss soaking in sounds that came through the ether between us: “This is not working. You may have the technical chops but you don’t have the intuition and that can’t be taught”. Case shut. The next sound I heard were not fireworks but a colossal thud. I was the dumped spouse: abandoned, bereft and in shock. After years of working my precious butt, sometimes to almost midnight, this is how it ends. The door is surely now about to close and, though I don’t believe in fate, destiny or God but, it looks like Alexander Graham Bell was right and another door, a better door, is silently opening. The spark of an idea.
It came to me while sitting (I sit a lot) in a cafe at the weekend; in fact only yesterday. The prospect of reaching middle-age and being let go into a world that doesn’t want old fuddy-duddies had exercised my mind for a mighty long aeon. Still, I couldn’t figure what I could realistically do, entrepreneurially, that hadn’t been done. The one thing I knew was that when I walked the streets of London and observed independent businesses being run and managed by people with dreams, ambition and courage my heart would leap.
This is what I want to do: work for myself doing something that I love and excelling at it. This is how I feel walking into the Apple Store on Regents Street and knowing that “Someone built this and what a beauty it is”. Hate or loathe Apple but those guys raised the bar for computer software, build, design, functionality and service. I want to do something similarly amazing (perhaps, more). It will come at a premium (of course we all want to be paid and paid well) but it will be amazing. I once told a prospective boss who was about to hire me that “I want to change the world”. He laughed and there were times I would think back to then when I was younger and think “How naive”. It looks like life is offering me a chance.
So when my idea came I was awed and my heart leapt. After two hours of excitement the practical diffculties started to hit me: funding? technology? competition? managerial ability? Do all of the people who start a business have all these skills? No, they learnt on the job. Which is why I feel that my upcoming adventure will be less a child Alice through the looking glass and more an adult Jason setting off after the golden fleece. Tonight then as I sit on my sofa life is all surreal; my world is light, atemporal and indistinct; a living impressionist painting. I might fail but at least I’d have tried and what I learn will be invaluable. I don’t want to return to earth and ashes wishing “If only”.
But if it works out …
Craving to be popular and fitting in
Buries our singular individualism
Imitation may be the best kind of flat-
tery; to pacesetters, but not copycats
For a thing to be different
It, first, must not be the same
One might as well quote Foucault
For it’s better to be an originator
Hankering after success
Leads others to like you less
For to supplant them yet remain friends
Is a sore contradiction in terms
Keep your friends in close
And your enemies even closer
One might as well quote Machiavelli
For he was wise to sly demagoguery
Praying for immortality
Denies the evolutionary duality
For as Earth has, its energy, given us
Its fair and fulsome price, pay, we must
All the world’s a stage and we are but
Bit players with entrances and exits
One might as well quote Shakespeare
For there’s nothing to fear, but fear
Looking out my window I can see the young daughter of a close-by neighbour. She must be what now – nine, ten? I’ve lived here four years and I’ve seen her grow from cute kid to the cusp of teenage-hood. In two years she’ll have breasts and be beset by that monthly thing that all women must go through; that process that makes the birth of the likes of me possible. In two years I’d have been living here for six; in the same small, cold flat with the single window glazing that won’t keep out the winter cold and the small kitchen where I can barely do a pirouette; besides, where will I store my growing pile of books?
I gotta do something about this. For as time waits for no one, it’s clear the time to grab the bull by the balls is now.